Pakistan Apostacy Bill a Giant Leap Backwards for Human Rights & Religious Freedom
On Tuesday May 8, 2007, Pakistan's legislature made unquestionably clear that it has no intention of affording equal protection under the law to Christians and other religious minorities, and moved forward a bill that mandates the death penalty for conversion away from Islam. In a historic session, seeming more out of the 8th Century than the 21st, hardline Islamist MPs and "moderates" alike shot down the single voice of reason.
Minority MP Bhandara floored a bill that would have amended Pakistan's infamous "blasphemy" laws. Under the current law, anyone convicted of blaspheming Islam's Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in word, deed, or symbol, can be sentenced to death, and one found guilty of "insulting Islam," "desecrating the Qur'an," and various other offenses, to life in prison. Blasphemy laws have been repeatedly used by Muslims to settle personal scores against Christians. And even the mere accusation - false as they most often are, have resulted in Christians languishing for years in prison, their families being forced into hiding and their properties confiscated, and even if one day found innocent and released, facing lynch mob justice.
Bhandara argued that all Pakistanis are equal citizens regardless of religious affiliation, and thus all should be treated equally under the law.  But rather than seeking to repeal the current blasphemy laws - an effort that has been shot down on every attempt, Bhandara sought only to make blasphemy illegal against Jesus Christ, Buddha, and central figures of other religious faiths. Bhandara was immediately booed by the mullahs of the MMA opposition parties, and received a verbal thrashing by Sher Afgan Niazi, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs:
the sacredness of our way of life that is more than mere religion
must not be touched upon by anyone. This is the parliament of an
Islamic State, not a secular one. No one can dare to present a bill
here which hurts the sentiments of Muslims. 
Frarid Paracha, representing the MMA religious alliance, exclaimed:
It is not only against the rules and the Constitution but it also is
tantamount to challenging the injunctions of Qur'an and model
life of the last Prophet (PBUH). 
Bhandara replied that his amendment bill sought only that protection available to Muslims under the law should also be provided to non-Muslims. The bill was sharply and unanimously voted down.
Later that same session, Pakistan's government took another giant leap backward for fundamental human rights and religious freedom. The "Apostasy Act 2006" draft bill was sent to the National Assembly by the opposition MMA. Gen. Pervez Musharraf's ruling government did not oppose the bill, and it was sent to standing committee. If passed the Apostasy Act would sentence Muslim men to death for committing "apostasy" (leaving Islam and converting to Christianity or another religious faith), and Muslim women to life in prison. The following are some of the bills high(low)lights:
Section 4: states that apostasy may be proven either by the accused "confessing" to the offense, or by the testimony of two adult witnesses. Unfortunately in some Pakistani courts non-Muslims are prohibited from testifying, and throughout Pakistan police are notorious for forcing confessions under brutal torture.
Section 5: states that the apostate should be given at least 3 days, and as many as 30 to return to Islam. If he refuses, he will be sentenced to death.
Section 6: states that even where the apostate returns to Islam, the Judge can sentence him to up to 2 years imprisonment "for the original crime." The accused faces prison for leaving and returning to Islam up to 3 times. Upon the 4th offense, however, a death sentence is mandated regardless of whether the apostate returns to Islam.
Section 8: proposes the suspension of all the apostate's property rights and even rights of apostates to their own children. If an accused male is sentenced to death, his property will be transferred to Muslim heirs. The rights of a female apostate will remain suspended until either she repents and returns to Islam, or until her death.
Section 9: states that apostates lose custody of any minor children in their care or guardianship - including their biological children. The children are awarded to Muslim relatives.
The draft bill has been denounced by many in the religious community, including the Archbishop of Lahore, and would clearly solidify Pakistan's position as one of the world's worst violators of fundamental human rights and religious freedom. Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha, head of National Commission for Justice and Peace and chairman of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference noted:
This situation is unfortunate and sad and this bill is contrary to the
principle of freedom of choice. Because international human rights
charters give every individual the right to change his or her religion
according to his or her conscience, we hope and pray that this bill
will not be passed. 
Institute on Religion and Public Policy President, Joseph K. Grieboski, stated:
Passage of this bill would usher in a new age of religious bigotry in
a country that prides itself on being a strong and committed ally in
combating global terrorism. Laws such as this would only serve to
engender further extremist behavior. 
The U.S. and the western world must not sit idly by while Pakistan prepares to charge full-force into even greater abuses of religious minorities, and blatantly refuses to protect or even recognize an individual's fundamental right to change his or her religion. Not only has the Islamic Republic of Pakistan benefited from positive press about its "moderate" and even "progressive" President and the country being an "ally" to the west, but it accepts with open arms a tremendous amount of financial aid - particularly from the United States.
Shame on the U.S. government if it soft-pedals yet again (in International Human Rights and Religious Freedom Reports), the outrageous abuses of human rights and religious freedom in Pakistan. We can be appreciative of Pakistan's "friendship" in the war on terror, but not at the deplorable cost of turning a blind eye while our "friend" puts men and women to death for their religious faith. U.S. officials and all our true allies must demand that Pakistan's Apostasy Act 2006 be "put to death."
More up to date information on the persecution of Christians can be found at http://jubileecampaign.org/.
Be sure to read about the persecution of Catholics in Vietnam by Lord David Alton!
To contact the Pakistan Embassy -
Embassy of Pakistan
3517 international Court,
Tel:(202) 243 6500
Fax:(202) 686 1544
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